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The Bully in the Park

(I wrote this a bit over a year ago, but I still thought it would be worth sharing!)

As I sat on the park bench while my 7-month old babbled away in his stroller, I noticed my 5-year old daughter hovering around the swings, staring at the two girls who were hogging them, just waiting for them to notice her puppy eyes and give up their throne. She waited patiently, fidgeting slightly every once in a while, trying to use her Jedi force to move them. She was clearly failing miserably as the girls continued to swing happily with nary a stare in her direction.

After a while, she came running to me, begging me to go speak to them, to use my mommy powers to coerce one of the girls off the swing. I, of course, trying to teach her a lesson in self-confidence, told her to march right back and speak her mind, and kindly ask one of the girls to get off so she can take her turn. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, like what are you nuts mom? I'm not going to speak to a complete stranger and enforce my demands on them! "I'm shy," she responded. "I can't do it myself." I'm shy. I had been making a serious effort to avoid those words when describing my daughter to justify and explain her aloofness when meeting new people. She's not shy, she's cautious. She's not shy, she's sensitive. Give her a bit of time and she'll be your best friend. I swear, she's not anti-social!

Here was another attempt to give her the confidence she needed to stand her ground and ask for what she wanted. After a few minutes of encouragement, and whining on her part, she marched toward the swings and I sat back, silently cheering her on, waiting for her glory moment when one of the girls would get off, and she would sit on the swing, flashing back a victorious smile saying "Mommy, I did it!". Nope. That was all in my head. She marched back to the same spot and continued to stare at both girls. Clearly, her confidence in her Jedi powers were stronger than I anticipated.

Then I started analyzing one of the girls, with her cap put on backwards like she came straight out of an 80's sitcom. But she was no Alex Mack (sorry cheap 80's reference :) She was looking teasingly at my daughter and she reeked of trouble. I automatically profiled her in my mind. Deadbeat parents, not enough love and attention at home, I even labelled her a bully. My claws were out. If she so much as looked at my daughter crooked, I would give her a piece of my mind, give her the discipline her parents never did. Then she said something to my daughter and I saw my baby get uncomfortable. I grabbed my 7-month old and marched right to her side like a mother bear, protecting what was hers. I was ready to give it to her. Flashbacks of high school bullying danced in my mind. I had to protect her from what I had experienced all throughout high school, the teasing, laughing and the trauma I spent my entire life trying to heal from.

Then it happened. I took one look at the vicious bully and saw my daughter in her. She must have been no more than 9 years old, just a kid, an innocent victim of a diseased society who doesn't know how to educate and guide, a product of a stressed out, distracted, image obsessed, and unbalanced society. But a part of me wanted to teach her a lesson. Nobody picks on my babies! I took a step back and a deep breath, and with maternal and gentle sternness, told her hogging the swings wasn't right and to please let my daughter have her turn. Within seconds, the girl on the other swing got up and gave her her spot instead. As my daughter victoriously sat down in the swing, and proudly pumped her legs back and forth, she looked at me and smiled, probably thinking: "that's my mama, she'll always have my back!". But, I won't always be there. I can only hope she learns from my assertiveness and applies it one day when I'm not around.

At this point, the bully turned around to me and said in French: "Your baby is so cute. I love babies. One day, I want to have baby boys." And so we struck up a conversation. She had ADD and was on medication. Her friend who was saving her spot on the swing at some point, which was annoying me, also had ADD. They were both going to attend a special camp that tends to their special needs this summer, and she was really excited. Her name was Angelica. She was 8 going on 9, and here she was openly talking about her condition like she would have talked about having pizza for dinner. It was normal; this is all she knew. I felt bad for being firm with her, but thankful I took a step back and didn't let my ego take over. After my daughter was done with the swing, I smiled at my new friend and waved goodbye. Angelica flashed back an innocent smile, and I couldn't even remember who that bully was that I had imagined.

How many times have we told off someone for bumping into us at the grocery store? How many times have we experienced road rage over someone cutting us off? How often do we get upset over a cashier who just won't smile? What about the times you judged a mom for acting or behaving in a way that you thought went against your moral values? We all do it. Now all we have to do is be aware that we are judging or assuming, and letting our past, egos and insecurities get in the way. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and this world can use a little bit more empathy and kindness don't you think?

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© 2020 Carine Sroujian